I have been a family lawyer for 20 years. Throughout my career, I have met some of the very best people, at their worst or most stressed times. Some are emotional during our entire initial consultation, while others are already beginning to imagine their post-divorce life with ease. For those who are hurting through the process, I assure them that they are healing, too. For those who left their marriage, either emotionally or physically, long before walking into a consultation with me, they too require adequate time to understand the evolution and stages of the divorce process. A successful attorney-client relationship is a vital piece of this process.
I have steadily observed the traits that clients look for in lawyers. Without a doubt, most clients seek attorneys who are attentive to their needs and responsive to their inquiries. This sets the groundwork for a successful working relationship between client and attorney. One of the chief complaints that clients have is that they are unable to reach their attorney. Being able to conduct an open dialogue and engage in the free flow of information is crucial to the attorney-client relationship, and this can be achieved only by collaboration between the attorney and the client. In my practice, I have a 24-hour rule. I return all client calls and inquiries within 24 hours, and if I am unable to do so due to extenuating circumstances, I make sure that my client hears from my assistant to schedule a time for us to connect. Most times, this is well within 24 hours. I would also expect the client to reciprocate with the same courtesy and remain responsive and communicative throughout the process, as the relationship between attorney and client is a two-way street. Responsiveness of the attorney should be an important part of your selection process.
It is also important that your attorney remain goal-oriented. Your goals are the ones to be advanced, and not the goals of your attorney. I always ask my clients to advise me, in writing, where they wish to be one year after consulting with me. We strategize to assure that we approach the divorce process without ever losing sight of the client’s goals. Many divorce cases explode with excessive fees and prolonged battles because the attorneys those clients have chosen lose sight of their client goals in favor of their own goals, or even worse, their egos. This can be a recipe for financial and emotional disaster, as it adds unnecessary time and costs to an already difficult process. It is essential that the attorney set aside their ego, and equally important that the client insist that the attorney does so.
Other traits to look for in ensuring a successful client-attorney relationship are credibility and reasonableness. The stereotype that you need a gladiator-type lawyer battling over every issue, big or small, is misplaced. While some issues require fierce advocacy, generally, the more reasonable your attorney is and the better he or she gets along with opposing counsel, the better the outcome is for the client, both financially and emotionally. As a client, you want to ensure your attorney is zealously advocating for you, not for themselves or their reputation, and doing so in a manner that maintains credibility and reasonableness. It is paramount to the success of any divorce that neither client nor attorney fights for the sake of fighting. Pick your battles wisely, and prioritize issues based on their importance to you.
Hopefully, this provides you with some insight when consulting with and selecting an attorney to guide you through this stressful, sensitive and crucial time of your life. Above all else, be sure your attorney walks beside you through the process, and never in front or behind.